Wiedmer: Saturday a fun day with Vols, Mocs

Wiedmer: Saturday a fun day with Vols, Mocs

March 2nd, 2014 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

KNOXVILLE AND - Twenty seconds into Tennessee's rout of Vanderbilt on Saturday afternoon, Big Orange guard Antonio Barton swished a 3-pointer off the right side to give the Volunteers a 3-0 advantage that would become a 76-38 win.

Twelve seconds into the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's regular-season finale against Appalachian State, Casey Jones scored inside and the Mocs led 2-0, lifting a passionate McKenzie Arena crowd to its feet for the first of many times in a rousing 63-44 win.

Call it the UT System Two-Step.

"Oh, it was great," said Chattanooga resident and UTC grad Rusty Scott, who left his home at 8:30 in the morning to meet friend Andy Bender in Cleveland in order to take in both games. "Just getting to see UT honor Dale Ellis made it perfect. Then to come back here and see Z. Mason honored before the start of the Mocs game. You could even say that just like Ellis was a cornerstone for what Don DeVoe built at UT, Z's been a cornerstone for what Will Wade hopes to build here."

Nor was Scott the only UTC grad to have such a plan. David Martin -- who earned an undergrad degree at UTC and grad degree at UT -- also took in both games, something the Knoxville native said he's now done three times in his life.

"We had to get back as quick as we could," Martin said, including his girlfriend, Natalie Roy. "We had to change out of our orange and white into our blue and gold."

Over the 31 years and 16 days I've worked at this newspaper I've covered two NCAA tournament regionals on the same weekend three times. In early March of 1992, I also watched Murray State's magical Popeye Jones lead the Racers to an Ohio Valley Conference championship in Lexington's, Rupp Arena, then drove a little more than four hours to Asheville, N.C., to see the Mocs lose a heartbreaker to East Tennessee State in the Southern Conference title game.

But until Saturday, I'd never had a chance to cover UTC and UT on the same day when they weren't playing each other. Then again, I don't remember the Vols ever before having a noon tipoff on the same day the Mocs were scheduled to start at 7 p.m.

So it's good to know that whatever hoop god watches over the Tennessee Valley can get his or her act together at least once every 31 years. And thanks to a couple of extra large Starbucks extra large (sorry, "venti") bolds for yours truly, it was a relatively easy transition.

At least a good deal easier than it was for Vanderbilt to shake off the disappointment of a three-point loss to No. 1 Florida at midweek before playing the Vols, who had as many 3-pointers (7) at halftime as Vanderbilt had total field goals, UT leading 41-18 at the break.

(Side note: If that score sounds somewhat familiar to both Tennessee and Vanderbilt fans, it may be because that was the score of the Commodores' football win over UT in Derek Dooley's last game as the Big Orange boss. But why mix sports?)

Said VU coach Kevin Stallings after the least points scored by a Commodores team against UT since 19: "When everybody starts making shots like they made today, it is going to be tough for anyone to beat them. I have been saying all season long that they are a really good team, and I think they have a chance to do really well in the NCAA tournament."

Just so you don't think Stallings is merely politicking for the Southeastern Conference, this is the same Tennessee team that owns a 35-point win over Virginia, which blew out former No. 1 Syracuse by 19 points on Saturday.

Not that UT coach Cuonzo Martin was willing to go that far. He did admit, "We were clicking on all cylinders today."

Not three weeks ago, UTC's Mocs were clicking on all cylinders, having won 10 straight. Then the reality of the enormity of the job Wade faces began to click in, UTC dropping five of the next eight. But with Saturday's win, the No. 2 seed for this week's Southern Conference tournament is secure, along with the stunning possibility of a 20-win season should the 18-13 Mocs reach the championship game of the SoCon tourney.

And just as super fan Scott said, Mason again proved a pretty good cornerstone, finishing his final home game with 24 points, 13 rebounds and six blocks, even if the loudest ovation of the night may have been for Dade County High School graduate Andrew Houts, who scored in close inside the final 40 seconds.

As Wade left McKenzie at the end of the game, he grabbed a microphone and thanked the 4,953 fans for their support and said, "Hope everybody can come back next year and bring a friend or two."

Later he added, "The best is yet to come."

If Saturday is any indication, that may be true for both the Mocs and the Vols.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com